Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Perlin: 'Clean Coal is like Perfumed Garbage'

An Exclusive Interview

John Perlin, noteworthy author of From Space to Earth: The Story of Solar Electricity, was in San Diego last week for a meeting commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the first practical use of photovoltaics by Bell Laboratories (see "Two Must-Have Solar Books" posted Sept. 20). This blogger was able to interview him over dinner on Thursday.

Asked about the upcoming Obama Administration in relation to renewable energy Perlin had this to say:

"Obama stressed renewable energy over 'drill, baby, drill.' The fact that he so craftily used the Internet to win the election shows he embraces new technology. McCain evidently doesn't even use a computer."

Perlin , who resides in Santa Barbara, is wary however of Obama's interest in "clean coal" and nuclear power expressed during the campaign.

"Clean coal is like perfumed garbage," he said. "There has not been any sizable sequestration of CO2 from coal-burning power plants." Besides, he says, CO2 leakage is likely from natural venting of the Earth's crust as with volcanoes or tectonic plate shifts. Then there is nuclear power.

"I see three problems with nuclear power. First, we haven't learned from our experiences with accidents; the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island incidents were strong warnings. Secondly, the very presence of nuclear plants gives terrorists the nuclear threat (if they forcibly take one over) without even having to invest in it. And finally, nuclear waste--and there's a lot of it--can be used to make dirty bombs by either terrorist cells or rogue governments.

"Furthermore, nuclear power requires copious amounts of water for making steam and for cooling spent rods. Solar power uses no water and this is important as the world's supply of fresh water sources is drying up," explained Perlin.

He sees two types of solar power: smart and stupid.

Smart solar he sees as incorporating energy efficiency in all new architecture, including passive and active solar methods.

"Housing placement should be planned so it can act as both a solar collector and deflector," Perlin continues. This is done with proper window placement with low-E panes; sufficient eaves and other shading on the south and west sides; and light-colored roofs for less heat retention, among other low-tech options like improved insulation.

"Stupid solar is not planning for it in the architecture and then adding a PV system to a bad design, sort of as an afterthought," Perlin concluded. He thinks feed-in tariffs for solar power would accelerate growth of the industry in the U.S. as it has already in Europe and that many of the existing rules of solar installations are too strict, bordering on obstructive.


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